WorldSBK round 1 – Phillip Island: World Superbike & World Supersport preview
Australian summer sun awaits the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, as the paddock heads to the legendary Phillip Island. Set on the glorious Southern Island, the 4.4km flowing circuit is a favourite of many riders, and doesn’t take fools on lightly as it twists over the hills for 12 corners of pure speed and racing action. The Yamaha Finance Australian Round promises to provide anticipation and thrill as the lights go out on the 2017 season.
2016 back to back World Champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) had the perfect opening to his championship defence Down Under last year, as he took the double victory in two stunning races; a sign of things to come for the season ahead for the Northern Irishman. Taking his first win at the Island back in 2015, Rea has a meticulous pace around the circuit and following a strong winter of testing he will hope to iron out any final issues at the Official Test at the start of the week. The last time the 30 year old stood on the top of the podium was back in September in Germany, so he’s hungry for a taste of the Prosecco.
Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) will be hoping to hit the ground running in 2017 and following a tough winter testing regime, the Yorkshireman will be heading out of pit lane with a point to prove and one person on his mind to beat – his team-mate. An act of true sportsmanship was shown in the final race of 2016 at Losail International Circuit which meant Sykes could secure second position overall in the championship, however the gloves are off once more. The 31 year old holds the pole position record in Australia, but is yet to take that all important first win at the track. Sykes’ last race win was in Race 2 at Laguna Seca back in July, with just six podium finishes following that. 2017 brings the Kawasaki ZX-10RR and new challenges, but he’s certainly not one to give up without a fight.
Coming off the back of a stunning run of form at the end of last season, Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) is looking like the man to beat heading into 2017. Making no secret of his blisteringly fast pace aboard the Panigale R, Davies will be working on the base setting he has secured from testing into 2017, with the hope of dominating the field as he did at the back end of last season. Taking six wins out of the last six races, the Welshman is on a winning streak but is yet to take the win at Phillip Island, despite Ducati being the most successful team at the circuit. Confident the ‘best is yet to come’, Davies and Ducati have made their aim for 2017 clear; to take the title.
Returning Italian Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing Ducati) will be one to ruffle some feathers this season, and so far his testing times prove he will have the pace to fight up at the front. With 19 WorldSBK wins to his name, Melandri has over 17 years of experience around Phillip Island from racing in MotoGP™ to the WorldSBK paddock; therefore he will certainly be one to watch when the lights go out for Race 1. With podium finishes in Australia in WorldSBK under his belt, he will be able to work alongside his team-mate in order to get the best pace possible out of his Ducati.
Challenges lie ahead for Stefan Bradl and Nicky Hayden (Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team), as they take on the new Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2 around the testing and relentless Phillip Island circuit. German rookie Bradl is making the sometimes difficult step across from MotoGP™, and with a brand new bike in the mix he will make the most of visiting a circuit he is familiar with. Putting in some solid testing time aboard his new machine, Bradl’s first feelings are positive and with a steady set of results here in the past, it will be a learning curve. Heading into his second year in the series, Nicky Hayden will be looking to improve on what he and his team learnt last season. Taking a victory in his debut season, the Kentucky Kid will be returning to the circuit for the third time in the last year following a visit back to his Repsol Honda machine last year. With a steady run of form on the Island, frequent top ten finisher Hayden will be keen to see what the Fireblade can do.
Taking on the twists and turns of the famous Phillip Island, the newly structured Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK team are a force to be reckoned with for 2017, and Australia is the perfect place for Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark to start. Alex Lowes is heading into his fourth season in the series and is looking to impress, as the YZF R1 has made some solid steps over the winter. Since Qatar the team have been working hard on their machines, and Lowes is ready to bring the fight and to secure that all important debut podium with Yamaha. Michael van der Mark has made the move to the blue corner and is feeling confident aboard the machine so far. In his debut WorldSBK round at the Island in 2015, the young Dutchman got a steady start and last season he was able to secure two podium finishes, meaning he has set the bar high as he goes Down Under in 2017.
Lone MV Agusta rider Leon Camier (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) seems to have struggled at Phillip Island in the past, and with minimal testing throughout the winter it may be a tough weekend for Camier. However the all important Official Test will be a true eye opener for the Brit and his team. Into his eighth full season in the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship the lanky Brit continues to make big progress with his Italian squad, working up to securing solid top seven finishes throughout 2016 and his is no doubt hungry for more.
Milwaukee make the switch to Aprilia for 2017, now known as Milwaukee Aprilia. Signing impressive rookie Lorenzo Savadori and WorldSBK veteran Eugene Laverty – both with experience aboard the Aprilia – the British squad will be taking their new RSV4 RF to new heights for 2017. Australian sun beckons for the pair as they look to take on the ever popular circuit. Following a strong test at the beginning of the season, they are set to cause ructions through the field and with the new grid rules for 2017 coming into force this year, it may benefit the satellite squad.
New season promises new challenges and World Supersport is certainly the series to look to in terms of challenges. Revving up to the magical Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit from 24th-26th February, the ever competitive class is about to enter a new season, and the challenge for the title will continue to be hotly contested amongst the world’s best production riders.
Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) suffered a blow to his title defense campaign as he was forced to fly home from the Official two day Phillip Island test on Tuesday night, and announced he is to sit out of the opening rounds of the season. After an injury sustained over winter, the Turkish rider chose to miss the remainder of his team’s winter testing plan, before he flew over to Australia to try out his fitness. Completing over 30 laps across the two days it was decided that despite his top six pace he will return home to rehabilitate. Potentially missing out on 50 points in the opening rounds, Sofuoglu won’t be too disheartened – in 2016 he went into the third round of the season with an 18 point deficit and suffered two DNFs, but still came out as champion.
Moving over to MV Agusta for the 2017 season, PJ Jacobsen (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) will be looking to get back to winning ways in the World Supersport series as he makes the switch to the Italian factory. The American begins his fourth full season in the class and is no stranger to the twists and turns of Phillip Island, securing a top five finish around the circuit last season. Proving he has a fast pace ahead of the season kick off, Jacobsen ended the Official two day Phillip Island test on the top of the timing sheets which means he will be able to take confidence into the season ahead.
A clear contender to bring the fight to Sofuoglu this year is Jules Cluzel (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda), as he embarks on a new season with a new team. Bouncing back from a tough mid-part of the season last year, the Frenchman was back to his winning ways in the closing rounds of 2016. He will be hoping to continue this run of form aboard the Honda, and with two team-mates in Robin Mulhauser and Hikaro Okubo he won’t be short of support and even some tight competition.
GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team are starting their season with Lucas Mahias and Federico Caricasulo as the Japanese factory returns with a factory supported effort for 2017. Mahias moves up alongside the Yamaha team, with whom he had great success in the STK1000 series in the latter stages of the season – he finished on the podium in three out of the final four races. Meaning it will make for a smoother switch for the Frenchman. Italian Caricasulo provides a seasons worth of WorldSSP knowledge, on top of a strong record around the Australian track. Taking second position in his debut finish around the testing Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit last year, Caricasulo brings positive memories and a strong understanding of the season ahead.
It would be hard to ignore the new addition to the WorldSSP grid; Kallio Racing Team as we head into a new season. Originally a one-event team for the final three European rounds of 2016, they dazzled as Nikki Tuuli secured three podium finishes in as many races. Ran by former MotoGP™ rider Mika Kallio, the experience behind the team certainly won’t be lacking. Heading to Phillip Island with duo of Tuuli and Sheridan Morias, they will offer a variety of knowledge around the stunning circuit. South African Morias boasts a wealth of experience in Australia but is yet to secure a podium finish there, so they will work together in order to get the best potential out of their YZF R6 machines.
Joining Sofuoglu aboard the Kawasaki ZX-6R will be young Brit Kyle Ryde (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing), moving onto his second season in the World Supersport series. Last season saw Ryde have a strong start to his weekend Down Under; qualifying in ninth position but crashed in a practice session, which meant his race performance suffered. An unsettled 2016 brought the 19 year old some tough results; however signing for Puccetti Racing will give Ryde the chance to showcase his true potential.
Profile Racing enter 2017 with a British duo of riders at the helm in Luke Stapleford and Stefan Hill, as they hope to bring the Truimph Daytona 675 up into podium contention for 2017. Ending last season on a high, Leicestershire’s Stapleford took pole position in a stunning Superpole session under the floodlights, at Losail International Circuit. He will be hoping to take this strong feeling into the new season, and the adrenaline fueled Phillip Island is a good place to start. Teamed with fellow Brit Hill, the pair will no doubt be working together to bring their machine up to the best of its potential.
Other teams worth a mention heading into the season opener, which kicks off on 24th February at 9.45AM LT (+ 11) are GEMAR Team Lorini, who with Aiden Wagner and Kyle Smith, who won the closing round of 2016 in the closest race of the season. Team Kawasaki Go Eleven have signed WorldSSP regular Gino Rea to take on the tight 2017 season as he’s accompanied by Kazuki Watanabe, who takes on his first season in the closely fought WorldSSP series.
As always the WorldSSP season is set to be a closely fought battle and the famous Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit is the best place to kick off the drama.